Ask most people what enrichment means and they’ll likely respond with some form of mental stimulation. If you’ve been reading our other newsletters or blog posts, you know by now that enrichment involves all of a dog or cat’s senses and functions. All are vital to a pet’s long-term physical and behavioral health. We find that cognitive enrichment, however, has a number of specific benefits:
- Improved problem solving capabilities
- A more profound and long-lasting tiredness (read: settled)
While cognitive enrichment may include aspects of the other forms of enrichment (food
, physical environment
, and social
), there are aspects of it unique to the use of your pet’s cognitive abilities.
We encourage all our clients to keep training with their dogs throughout the dog’s life. This isn’t just self-serving. Training is probably one of the easiest and most beneficial forms of cognitive enrichment. And training can take place anywhere you and your dog are together. When dogs learn new things, it lights up the cerebral cortex of the brain — the center of task-oriented function. There’s always something else your dog can learn. Training doesn’t have to be just learning good manners, although that is a very significant benefit of training. Tricks training opens up a whole new realm of things to learn and has the added benefit of being a great deal of fun for both you and your dog, as well as building confidence. We have seen many a shy or fearful dog come out of his or her shell in our Tricky Powwow class. Learning how to do new things focuses the dog’s brain, motivates the dog to step outside their fears and rewards them for achievement. Just like learning does for humans.
Another form of cognitive enrichment is exploring new places. Our Teenage Terrors clients are encouraged to take at least one Big Adventure a week. This can be going to a new park, visiting a new store or town, traveling by car or RV for overnights in hotels or campgrounds. Think of all the new things your dog can explore away from home and you can imagine how stimulating that is to the brain.
Of course, using interactive feeding toys (such as discussed in our “Think Outside the Food Bowl” blog post
on food enrichment) is another form of cognitive enrichment. What a great problem-solving exercise it is to figure out how to extract yummy morsels of food hidden in compartments of toys. This, too, has the added benefit of some physical exertion to tire out your high energy dog or cat.
Other fun games around your house when inclement weather hits have cognitive enrichment benefits, too: hide ‘n seek, scent games, find the cookie, and more.
Put your pet’s brain to work solving problems. You’ll see a happier, healthier pet in return.